5 Steps for Tuning Stubborn Doors

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Doors provide security, access control, and privacy. A door that refuses to open properly or won’t stay closed is probably not serving its purpose very well. A lot of homeowners are intimidated by doors. As a 25-year veteran home repair carpenter, doors are the single most common issue that homeowners contacted me about. Many doors get replaced, simply because the owner didn’t know how to troubleshoot or make repairs. Here are five common issues doors have and ways to deal with them. If you start at the top and work your way down, you will probably find your problem.

1. Check the Hinges

When hinges are loose or misaligned, doors tend to malfunction in a number of ways. But simply tightening hinges is often a fix for many common problems.

The problem can be indicated by a door that drags along knob edge at the top, a door that drags along bottom edge at the corner below the knob, or a doorknob striker does not hit striker receiver correctly.

It's best to use a handheld screwdriver when tightening door hardware of any kind — stripped screw heads can cause even further issues. Check all screws in the edge of the door and in the hinge plates on the door jamb, and tighten them all. For screws that will not tighten or will not remain tight, replace them with a longer or thicker screw.

2. Check the Knob and Striker

The spring latch inside your knob is known as a striker. The striker pushes out and sets into the “striker plate” in the door jamb. If the striker is misaligned it may either be too high, too low, or if the door does not close fully, the striker may bind.

This is indicated by a door that closes but pulls open with anyone turning the knob, a door that will not fully close, or a door that will not stay closed.

Position yourself so that the striker is at eye level. Mark the top and bottom of the striker with a pencil. This will show you whether the striker is high or low. Move the striker plate up or down as needed. Chisel out the jamb slightly to get a level fit. If the striker is aligned but not latching, move the plate out toward the front of the jamb.

3. Check Your Threshold

On exterior doors, the jamb is the horizontal plate that runs along the bottom against the floor. The door closes on top of this plate. If they become worn or loose, they can cause issues.

This is indicated by a door that rubs against the threshold under the knob, a door that rides too high over the threshold, or a door that refuses to close and is hitting the threshold.

Thresholds are often adjustable. Remove the rubber gasket on top of the threshold and tighten the screws underneath to lower the threshold, or loosen them to raise it. The mounting screws may also need to be replaced, or the entire threshold can be replaced. Simply follow the instructions that come with your new threshold.

4. Resetting the Frame

Before you consider cutting your door down, you should first consider resetting the frame. If the door worked correctly but has become difficult and all other factors have been corrected, this is often your best bet.

Remove the trim around your door on both faces so that you can see the jamb at both sides and the top. Cut the door jamb loose from the wall frame. Reset the frame so that it's plumb (vertically level), both corners are square, and the two jambs are evenly spaced at the top, bottom, and center. Use shims and screws to reattach the jamb to the wall and test the door before you reinstall your door trim.

5. Planing the Door

If all else fails, the door may need to be planed down. If this is the case, you should only cut the door down as a last resort. Look along the edges to find the trouble spot. Use a block plane or door plane to trim off material until the door functions. Only remove as much material as necessary. Do not use a saw unless it's absolutely necessary.